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Tips on using SharePoint in a multilingual environment

A few new languages

Because of recent changes to the Azure Translator Text API, a few new languages in the Western Iranian language group are being added to PointFire Translator.

Two versions of Kurdish are being introduced, Kurdish (Central), language code "ku", also called Sorani,  and Kurdish (Northern), language code "kmr", also called Kurmanji.

In addition, two languages of Afghanistan are being added.  
Dari (prs) and Pashto (ps).  PointFire Translator had already supported Dari and Persian, and Dari is also supported by PointFire 365 and SharePoint.  However, we had been using the same language code and translation engine for both of them, because they are so similar.  
Now Dari will use "prs" and Persian will use "fa" for Farsi, another name for the same language.

SharePoint 2019 Machine Translation Service is back!

When SharePoint 2019 was first released, its Machine Translation Service did not work.  The service could be installed and was running, but most attempts to use of it would result in the error message "The service application required to complete this request is unavailable. Try this operation again later. If the problem persists, contact your administrator."

The ULS log would have a message of "Unimplemented method" with a stack trace in Microsoft.Office.Web.Conversion.Framework.

Microsoft  has now resolved that error!  If you install the July 2020 or later Cumulative Update for SharePoint 2019 then the service is working again.

The Machine Translation Service is used by two optional features of PointFire 2019: the machine translation of user interface elements and the translation of classic pages and documents in SharePoint libraries.

These functions now work as expected.  The next release of PointFire 2019 will have some performance improvements that were delayed because of the difficulty in testing improvements to a feature that very few could use.

Because of the ongoing problem, all users of PointFire 2019 have been able to get free annual licenses for PointFire Translator, which can translate documents, pages, lists, and UI elements in SharePoint 2019 with higher quality than the free Machine Translation Service (although check out this secret setting).  PointFire Translator can also translate modern pages Excel, PowerPoint, and PDFs, which the Machine Translation Service cannot do, and covers more languages.  This free license program will soon end. If your free PointFire Translator license is expiring, contact us about transitioning to the Machine Translation Service or renewing the license.

SharePoint’s New Multilingual Publishing Feature and How PointFire Translator Integrates With It

(see also SharePoint Multilingual Page Publishing Feature in Detail)
The initial documentation for Microsoft’s new multilingual pages functionality for modern pages is now available online.  You can find it here.

According to the recent announcement, "this new feature enables the publishing and consumption of pages and news in multiple languages in a modern SharePoint communication site. This is an opt-in feature. Site owners must take action to enable this experience.... We will be gradually rolling out this feature to Targeted Release (entire organization) customers by the end of March 2020. The roll out will be completed for all customers, by the end of May 2020."

When it is activated, site owners will be able to select the languages to which they want modern pages to be translated, and the persons who should be notified when a translation is requested.


When a modern page has been created, a translation can be requested.  On the top bar of the page, select the Translation button.

This brings up a translation pane on the right of the page.  To create a page for translation in all the languages configured for your site, select "Create for all languages". Otherwise, you can select the individual languages you want by clicking "Create".


If you are one of the people named as a translator for that language, you will get an email that looks like this:


The out-of-the-box experience when clicking on the “Start translating” button is to bring you to a copy of the original page in the original language, saved in a language-specific folder of the Page library.  You can start translating this copy of the page, replacing the text in the title and in the various webparts with text in the desired language, provided that you have the required permissions.

This is where PointFire Translator integration comes in.  SharePoint's new out-of-the-box feature does not include machine translation.  If you have version 2.0 of PointFire Tranlator and someone has set up the automation or the scheduling features of PointFire Translator Server, then when you click on “Start translating” in your email you will see not the page in the original language for you to translate, but a freshly translated page for you to check, modify if required, and publish.  It’s that simple.  PointFire Translator will have translated the page, its title, the text within text and hero webparts, webpart titles, translatable text metadata, etc.

If notification was not set up in the OOTB feature, or if you have not enabled the automation or the scheduling features of PointFire Translator, then you will have to initiate the translation manually.  Go to the appropriate Pages library, then pick the folder with the language code corresponding to the desired language.

For those who have used PointFire products before, SharePoint is now using the same language codes that PointFire had been using.  Then within the folder, select the page that you want to translate, and either select “PointFire Translator” in the item menu or click on the item to activate the checkmark in the circle to the left of the item and click on the the “PointFire Translator” button.

Besides the ability to translate the modern pages created by this SharePoint OOTB feature, you can still get the other benefits of PointFire Translator, including the ability to translate classic pages, to translate documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF format, and to translate list items, as well as the ability to translate entire libraries and lists at once rather than single items or wildcard matches.

More detailed information will be posted here when Microsoft makes it public.

All the Languages Supported by PointFire.

PointFire 365 and PointFire Power Translator support a lot of languages, but language support is not the same for all languages.  Here is a current chart of which languages are currently supported and to what degree.

Language Quality SharePoint
Afrikaans Neural N
Arabic Neural Y
Azerbaijani  - Y
Bangla Neural N
Basque  - Y
Bosnian (Latin) Neural Y
Bulgarian Neural Y
Cantonese (Traditional) Statistical N
Catalan Statistical Y
Chinese Simplified Neural HP Y
Chinese Traditional Neural Y
Croatian Neural Y
Czech Neural Y
Danish Neural Y
Dari Neural (Persian) Y
Dutch Neural Y
English Neural Y
Estonian Neural Y
Fijian Statistical N
Filipino Statistical N
Finnish Neural Y
French Neural HP Y
Galician  - Y
German Neural HP Y
Greek Neural Y
Haitian Creole Statistical N
Hebrew Neural Y
Hindi Neural HP Y
Hmong Daw Statistical N
Hungarian Neural Y
Icelandic Neural N
Indonesian Statistical Y
Irish  - Y
Italian Neural HP Y
Japanese Neural HP Y
Kazakh  - Y
Kiswahili Statistical N
Klingon Statistical N
Klingon (plqaD) Statistical N
Korean Neural HP Y
Latvian Neural Y
Lithuanian Neural Y
Macedonian  - Y
Malagasy Statistical N
Malay Statistical Y
Maltese Statistical N
Norwegian (Bokmål) Neural Y
Persian Neural N
Polish Neural Y
Portuguese (Brazil) Neural Y
Portuguese (Portugal) Neural (Portuguese) Y
Queretaro Otomi Statistical N
Romanian Neural Y
Russian Neural HP Y
Samoan Statistical N
Serbian (Cyrillic) Statistical Y
Serbian (Latin) Statistical Y
Serbian (Latin, Serbia) Statistical Y
Slovak Neural Y
Slovenian Neural Y
Spanish Neural HP Y
Swedish Neural Y
Tahitian Statistical N
Tamil Statistical N
Telugu Neural N
Thai Neural Y
Tongan Statistical N
Turkish Neural Y
Ukrainian Neural Y
Urdu Statistical N
Vietnamese Neural Y
Welsh Neural Y
Yucatec Maya Statistical N

SharePoint itself supports 51 languages.  PointFire 365 supports all of those languages.  All user interface elements can be shown in any of those languages, all content can be filtered to show content to users in any of those languages.  They are indicated by a "Y" in the "SharePoint" column.

PointFire Power Translator supports even more languages.  If you are unaware of the PointFire products, PointFire 365 is the one that handles localizing the user interface and filtering content by language, while PointFire Power Translator is the one that carries out machine translation of documents and metadata in SharePoint Online and OneDrive, and of the content of any library, list, or classic or modern page in SharePoint Online.  Where the language is one that is supported by PointFire 365, the combination of both products means documents and SharePoint pages immediately show up in any of those languages.  For example if you send a news page to translation using PointFire Power Translator, it will translate it into the other languages of your site within seconds and all users who prefer one of the other languages will see the version in their language rather than the original.

However the quality of machine translation can vary.  In the back end, PointFire Power Translator uses one of four different translation technologies, powered by Azure translation technologies.  The technology that most people are used to, which powered the old Bing and Google translation engines, is statistical machine translation.  This was the state of the art until a few years ago, using syntax-based statistical translation models with a few additional tricks to improve language quality.  It trains on large corpora of text that is already translated, trying to mimic the translation process using statistics.  This technology got better and better over the years.  For several languages we are still using these statistical models.

Around 2015, based in large part on algorithms developed at the University of Toronto and Université de Montréal, Neural Network models emerged as a better alternative to statistical models.  These deep networks require enormous amounts of computing power to train.  Interestingly enough, large software companies like Microsoft and Google tend to publish their results and make their insights and tools available to each other, so that they can each improve on one another's work.  Because of this, neural machine translation technology has progressed quickly.  It still requires massive amounts of computing power to train such models, something like 100 processors for a week for each training run, but Microsoft is a leader in technologies to use less processing power so it uses a fraction of that.  For most major languages, PointFire is using neural translation.

Then in March 2018 Microsoft announced it had achieved "Human Parity" for some translation tasks.  Mind you this is a controversial claim and neither the humans with whom parity was achieved nor the people doing the rating of translation quality were professional translators, but we use the "HP" label to refer to the technology being used, not necessarily to the quality level.  These initial engines were not suitable for production, they were far too massive.  Microsoft then improved on the size and performance of these complex models, using groundbreaking techniques.  For example they use a large deep neural network to train a much faster wide shallow network, gaining a huge performance improvement and improved translation quality.  They train a separate neural network to detect and correct errors in the input data.  They use the trick that so many of us have used to hilarious effect: it translates sentences from English to another language, then translates that translation back to English to see whether it is the same.  These new "human parity" engines have been sweeping international competitions of translation quality and, as opposed to a lot of the other entries, these are available in production.  Chinese and German were released in late November 2018, and French, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Russian, to/from English are now available.  More details on the Microsoft Translator blog if you are interested.

The highest quality of any translation engine on earth is still not good enough for you?  We offer an even higher quality.  Using Microsoft's Custom Translator, you can re-train an existing neural machine translation engine using your own professionally translated documents so that it adopts your vocabulary and your style.  If you're keen, you can even train it on a different dialect or language.  PointFire Power Translator supports these custom models as well as the standard ones in the table above.

There is a lot of overlap between the languages supported by PointFire 365 and those supported by PointFire Power Translator.  Some of them are the same language, but some of them have a mapping that you may need to be aware of.  For example, SharePoint supports Dari but not Persian, while the translator supports Persian and not Dari.  Written Persian and written Dari are close enough that we have declared them to be the same.  When you check the translations, keep it in mind.  SharePoint supports two versions of Portuguese.  The translator supports only one. It is a hybrid but it looks more like Brazilian Portuguese.  We use the same engine for both, but it's a good idea to check the translations.  For Norwegian, SharePoint explicitly uses bokmål, while the translator uses a different language code that may refer to nynorsk.  From the limited knowledge of Norwegian available to our team, the language code looks like a mistake and we believe that both use bokmål.

The Balkans present their own challenges.  Certain languages of former Yugoslavia are similar to certain other languages. It's a sensitive subject so we will not discuss in writing how we bridge some of the gaps between language codes.  However it has been made clear to us that using a Bulgarian translation engine for the Macedonian language is not acceptable and therefore we do not provide machine translation functionality for Macedonian, until a compatible translation engine specific to the Republic of North Macedonia is available.

There are a number of languages for which PointFire Power Translator can provide translations of SharePoint or OneDrive documents, but which SharePoint itself does not support.  The Item Language column of these translations will be tagged with the language code of these languages, whether or not it is an allowable language code in PointFire 365.  Be aware that PointFire 365 will not filter these documents.  These languages include Icelandic, Kiswahili, and Maltese.  There are in theory two versions of Klingon, one that uses the Latin alphabet and the other that uses the Klingon scripts.  We regret that the version using the Klingon font, if you have installed this font, is no longer working :-(  and we have not invested the time to find out why.

Is there Persian (Farsi) language support for SharePoint?

SharePoint sometimes has separate language packs for several variants of closely related languages, like Brazilian and European Portuguese, or several varieties in the Serbo-Croatian family of languages.  In other cases, you have to live with a different variant of your language, so for instance people in the UK must use the American flavour of English with American spelling and vocabulary, and Flemish-speaking Belgians must use Dutch, with all its differences in vocabulary.

For Persian, the language spoken in Iran, there is no direct support.  However in SharePoint 2013 and 2016 and in SharePoint Online, you do have the option of selecting Dari.  Dari is a language of Afghanistan, the native language of about 20% of the population.  It is also known as Dari Persian, Afghan Persian, and simply Farsi.  Although the spoken version sounds quite different from Iranian Persian spoken in Tehran, the written language is nearly the same.  Download the SharePoint Dari Language Pack and use it instead of Persian.

For languages where SharePoint supports a slightly different version of the language that you want, PointFire gives you the option in a lot of cases to override specific text from SharePoint's language packs and use your different text instead.

Little-Known Setting to Vastly Improve Translation Quality

SharePoint has a machine translation service that can be used to translate certain documents and phrases.  Out of the box, it can be used by Variations to translate pages, and by the Managed Metadata Service to translate terms in the term stores.  Beyond that, it is available through the API, and PointFire products make use of it.

For the past several months, Microsoft has been introducing a far superior machine translation engine.  So far it is available in English, French, Arabic, Chinese simplified (Mandarin),  German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

It is not automatically used unless you specifically configure the machine translation service for it.  Simply open a session in the SharePoint Management Shell and issue this commandlet:

Set-SPTranslationServiceApplication "Machine Translation Service" -MachineTranslationCategory generalnn

That's it!  In this case the service was named "Machine Translation Service". For examples of the old vs the new engine, see 

SharePoint Online uses the old engine, and there is nothing you can do about it. I don't think you can configure the machine translation service for your tenant.  Maybe you can request it nicely or vote it up.
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